He had been the face of law enforcement leadership in Glynn County for most of the 21st Century, from directing high-profile investigations under national media scrutiny to personally patrolling streets as a tropical storm or a hurricane bore down on the community.
His 14-year tenure as head of the Glynn County Police Department appeared to be a 24/7 occupation, but Chief Matt Doering somehow managed to place that demanding role second to his responsibilities as a family man, according to friends and colleagues. Doering, 56, died Tuesday afternoon at his home in Glynn County after a lengthy illness.
He leaves behind his wife, Michelle, and teenage twins, son Ian and daughter Meriam.
“I know he loved his job and he was certainly very committed to serving this community,” said Alan Ours, Glynn County Manager. “But I was privileged to see firsthand what really mattered to him. And that was his family, his wife and his children. He was always talking about his family, how much he loved them, how proud he was of the kids.”
A California native, Doering served 34 years on the Glynn County Police Department. He served as police chief from December of 2003 until his retirement last September. Doering joined the force in May of 1984, following a stint as a Military Police officer in the U.S. Army. His wife Michelle played a key role in Doering’s decision to settle in Glynn County, he told The News last year.
“I married a Southern girl and moved to Georgia in 1984 and the rest is history,” Doering said during an interview about his retirement. “It’s been a wonderful experience, an invaluable experience.”
Doering’s tenure as police chief included investigations into several high-profile murder investigations. Among them was the mass murder of eight people inside a mobile home at New Hope Plantation in August of 2009, for which Guy Heinze Jr. is now serving a life sentence. Additionally, the department under Doering’s leadership, led the investigation into the March 2013 shooting death of a 13-month-old baby in Brunswick, for which De’Marquise Elkins is now serving a life sentence.
Doering also was chief during the controversial fatal shooting of Caroline Small by two county police officers following a slow-speed chase in Glynn County in 2010. A Glynn County grand jury chose not to pursue charges against the two officers; a federal judge later ruled that the shooting was “unnecessary” but did not violate Small’s constitutional rights.
As Hurricane Matthew bore down on the Golden Isles in October of 2016, Doering patrolled St. Simons Island, urging residents to heed evacuation orders while monitoring the worsening conditions. In the aftermath of Tropical Storm Hermine the month before, Doering was out and about in Glynn County helping direct traffic through powerless intersections.
Doering began monthly community forums in 2016 known as PACT (Police and Citizens Together), in which he met monthly in various locations to discuss crime trends and offer crime prevention tips. Doering also formed the Violent Crimes Task Force, which brought Glynn and Brunswick police together with the county sheriff’s office to share information on crimes affecting the community as a whole.
“One thing that stands out to me was his ability to transcend every part of our community, whether it was Brunswick or whether is was St. Simons Island, or everywhere in between” Ours said. “He built positive relationships with everybody in the county. He brought the department a long way, and worked tirelessly to make Glynn County a safer community.”
And all the while Doering kept his focus on family and faith. Pastor Tim Brown of Blythe Island Baptist Church serves also as minister to the county police department. But he first met Doering some years back over family matters. Doering was looking for a family-friendly trick-or-treating venue and Blythe Island Baptist fit the bill, Brown recalled.
“That began a long relationship, beyond faith or church,” Brown said. “He was so much more than just a police chief. He was a father to two twin teenagers. He took the time to scout with them, hunt, fish, teach life lessons, vacation and go on every youth and children’s trip they were involved in.”
Brown was with Doering often as his recent decline in health began. During hospital visits, Doering often asked if he could pray for others. He deflected his own life-and-death struggle to ask folks about their lives, Brown said.
“I watched him love his wife and work on becoming a better husband and father for her and the kids,” Brown said. “He fought for the past several months and I was privileged to see his faith strengthen no matter what was handed him. His faith was personal and genuine.”
Shortly after retiring as chief, Doering took a new job as an officer with the County Schools Police. Schools Police Chief Rod Ellis said Doering’s year serving Risley Middle School was a fitting end to his long-time friend’s law enforcement career.
“Faith and family were very important to him, and he loved his community,” said Ellis, a friend and colleague of Doering’s for more than 30 years. “He loved kids, he loved to serve and loved being in law enforcement. He did a great job. It’s not how he died; it’s how he lived.”